Updated: May 9, 2021
Reverse Hipster's Top 10
Paige was a game-changer and signaled a change in how WWE booked the woman in WWE. A true trailblazer, she has classic matches with Emma down in Nxt and became the first-ever Nxt Woman's Champion. Paige was instrumental in the rise of Nxt, and she would not stop there. She had maybe the best woman's/debut ever when she came on Raw and defeated Aj Lee, who was the longest-reigning diva's Champion at the time.
WWE bet the farm on Paige, and it is easy to see why she was an incredible wrestler, but she also had a great character. Unlike anything we had seen before, she was strange, a genuinely badass anti diva who could use her character to inspire the fans to embrace their unique qualities or become a hated heel pushing the babyfaces buttons and making the crowd want to Paige get what was coming to her.
Paige Continued to push the entire division forward on Raw having entertaining matches with anyone they had her work with and teaming with future stars in PCB and introducing them to the audience. Paige also gained a reputation as a rebel. She would not take shit from trolls online or in the industry and continues that today, refusing to get rid of her twitch stream. She helped promote WWE quite a bit. She is a cult of personality with a rabid fan base and a good relationship with the girls in the back, as seen on total divas. The Rock found Paige so inspiring that he made a movie about her called fighting with my Family and who could blame him.
9. Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks is one of the most talented women ever to grace a WWE ring. Before she even got to the main roster, she was a champion with classic matches that we will talk about forever with Bayley. She was also a great Heel Champion. When Sasha was called up as a Team Bad member, her in-ring skills stood out even when I did not know anything about her.
Sasha Banks has made history numerous times with many first-ever matches. They keep pitching it to her because she keeps knocking it out of the park. She has one of the best matches ever, in my opinion, for the inaugural Women's Championship at Wrestlemania 32. The match should have main evented the show and Sasha Should have been the winner her performance was incredible regardless. She is also one half of the first-ever Woman's tag team Champion's, and she has been World Champion multiple times. She has held the NXT world heavyweight title, the Raw women's title, and Smackdown 'Womens' title. There is no title she has not won and no feat out of her reach. She is the ultimate superstar, which is why She is the current Smackdown Woman's Champion.
8. Becky Lynch
Becky got it through the mud. She is one of the Original four horsewomen who elevated the main roster and nxt. She helped propelled Charlotte and was a fan favorite as a scrappy underdog. She was also a piece of the legendary triple threat at WrestleMania 32. Becky has been elevating the women division her entire career, but it was not until 2018 When she would step into superstardom.
In 2018 Becky could no longer be denied she started a hurricane of fan support and in-ring excellence that led to the woman being the most exciting and relevant division in WWE. This ended with the first-ever Women's main event at WrestleMania between herself and Charlotte and Ronda. The match was incredible, and it ended with Becky lynch being crowned the undisputed champion. She held Both show's titles at the same time. Becky's meteoric rise was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen in wrestling. For both her day-to-day contributions and her historic feats for the woman's division, the Man Becky Lynch deserves her spot on this list as one of the decade's best acts.
7. Bray Wyatt
My current favorite superstar Bray Wyatt has brought an intrigue and genius to wrestling that had been missing. Bray has one of the best creative minds in wrestling. His gimmick with the Wyatt family got the group over in a big way on Nxt, and he was able to carry that onto the main roster. When Bray Wyatt shows up, it is an experience; it is unique and can't miss.
Due to WWE's poor booking of him, he has had to reinvent himself a couple of times, and he has been a hit each time. Both as Bray, the cult leader, and as the Fiend. He has been a tag champion, a WWE world heavyweight champion, and multiple-time universal champion.
Bray is an innovator; his firefly funhouse is one of the most entertaining and creative matches you will ever see. He has had great matches with Cena, Daniel Bryan, and Dean Ambrose. His greatest match, in my opinion, is his Shield vs. Wyatts match at No Way Out. Bray Wyatt is one of the best characters and promos of this generation, and his connection to his fans is organic. I just cannot wait to see what he does next.
6.The Bella Twins
The Bella Twins were in WWE before the shift of the woman's division before there was an NXT and back when the woman did not get much time. However, they are a great case study in how much that era missed out because they have been a force in the 2010s. They were beloved even then out drawing the men at times, but they were not allowed to be all they could be then.
One of the woman's revolution's best-kept secrets is how much the Bella's contributed so the next girls in line would not have to deal with the shenanigans they did. Total divas was huge for the woman. It brought WWE into the popular culture of this generation, but more importantly, it gave the woman division a face and voice.
Watching Total Divas promoted the women in the division and made you care about each of them personally, and thus you care more about their success and characters. When a woman's match gets canceled, nobody really cared before, probably because they did not notice. However, with Total Divas, you see the woman losing their matches after working so hard to prepare for them, and you internalize it.
The Bellas were the stars of the show and even got their spin-off which opened the door for others like the woman of today to do Total Diva's and hit shows like Miz and Mrs. Also, the Bella's carried Raw for a long time. Nikki was the longest reigning Champion at one point, and she put Charlotte over at night champions in one of her best matches. Nikki also had a great match with Ronda at the first-ever all-women PPV. Brie represented her sister and carried the brand on her back while her sister Nikki was hurt. She had a great program with Stephanie McMahon also. The Bella's were a premier tag team in WWE before there was even a WWE Woman's tag division.
The Bellas have played the role of the heels of the woman's revolution despite giving so much back. They have been there to put over many superstars when the time was right such as Ronda, Asuka, Charlotte, Paige, and as a brand, they have made not only WWE but the woman's division bigger. They have risked life and limb in the ring returning after pregnancy showing moms can wrestle too, and Nikki was fighting through neck injuries to do what she loves risking being paralyzed, and they continue to be a massive part of WWE in out of the ring with their show and podcast.
5. The shield
The Shield is one of the greatest factions of all time. They came in and made such an impact that we are still talking about them today, and we probably always will. They just came in and wrecked all the top stars and left. However, even though the Shield is hall of fame worthy as a collective, they are even greater as singles stars.
The Shield created the top stars of the next decade. Roman Reigns has gone on to main event many WrestleMania's and win multiple world Championships. He is currently the Universal Champion and one of the few stars that have been created during this current era of wrestling.
Dean Ambrose is one best promo guys there is, and he is a tremendous technical and hardcore wrestler. He led the Shield and has had a harder road than Roman and Seth but has managed to become a top star every time. Dean led Smackdown into the new era as the undisputed Champion beating his Shield brothers. When he left the company, he put AEW on his back as a top draw and Champion there.
Seth Rollins is one of the most gifted athletes to ever step between the ropes. He was the first of the Shield to be the guy, and he has been pounding the pavement since he arrived in WWE as the inaugural Nxt champion, and he has not stopped since. Seth has already won every championship there is. He is constantly pushing to be greater, taking everything he is given and doing his best with it. He has been a most hated villain and the crowd's favorite hero.
Every member of Shield is a grand slam champion, and if they stopped wrestling, tomorrow would be hall of fame bound. They took the brass ring, and they haven't let go. They changed the course of wrestling and became the top stars of the decade.
4. Cm punk
Cm punk is a generational talent voice of the voiceless he engaged fans in a way that had not been done since the Attitude Era. He brought in the reality era for this decade of blending truth and fiction to make compelling storylines. He kicked down the door for smaller guys and showed that you could break the mold and draw fans. He pulled back the curtain and kept WWE accountable on their bs, which is not easy to do when you are one man against the biggest behemoth in sports entertainment.
He started as the peoples champion on the third brand Ecw and ended as the peoples champion on flagship facing the Rock, Cena, Brock Undertaker; the list goes on. Many people stopped watching wrestling after Punk left. He was that captivating. He spoke to the fans WWE tries desperately to reach. Nobody has been so highly praised as Punk after he left. He was chanted for years after his exit.
From his pipebomb and his angle with Cena and all his other excellent feuds, Cm Punk Owns like three years of this decade; he will always hold a place in wrestling fans' hearts.
3. The New Day
The New Day transcend wrestling. Their popularity is well deserved and culturally relevant. They have been a positive voice for black culture in wrestling, something that I would argue had not been done to this level before. They were the hottest thing in WWE as heels when everyone hated them, but they were so good that they won everyone over.
They have elevated the tag team division to main event status. They put on some of the best tag matches you will ever see. They have elevated each other in WWE. Kofi was finally able to win the WWE championship because the group made them stars. They did it all together. They are the only team that has never turned on each other and never will. They are the power of positivity. They are hilarious, always coming up with crazy ideas to make everyone laugh.
They proved that they were more than what everyone thought of them, and they proved you do not have to be a Triple h type action star to be the top stars. They are crazy athletic and talented wrestlers you would actually want to meet in real life. They have great chemistry. You can tell the brotherhood is real on their podcast.
I would say of the new generation, New Day are the biggest stars, and the fandom travels to any platform or pop culture arena. Xavier has his own gaming channel and hosts on G4 and is a multiple-time tag team champion. Big E is a former NXT champion, multiple-time tag team champion, and Current IC champion. Kofi is a triple crown champion and has won the biggest prize in sports, and I will never forget it. They are titans in the wrestling industry, and they are not even done yet.
2. Daniel Bryan
He has one of the best stories in wrestling. He is like the human wrestling equivalent of Jordan getting cut from his high school team and becoming MJ. His most significant moment obviously was when he owned Raw for a year in one of the best storylines in the company's history as he chased the title and was repeatedly told he was not good enough and he could not do it.
If Cm punk kicked the door down for little guys, Daniel is the guy that ran through and kept it open. After beating Batista, Randy Orton, and Triple H all on the biggest night in wrestling, his rise to becoming the undisputed champion is good enough to write a movie about it. There is no movie yet, but Daniel has an excellent book about it called Yes. He organically won over the fans and has shown us that he was worthy of our support through his excellent matches and character work.
Daniel Bryan is not just an inspiration to fans. He is an inspiration to other wrestlers. He got an injury that ended his career but faced depression, and he kept trying to come back, and he returned from a season-ending injury and inspired other wrestlers like Edge and Paige, and Christian to see if they could do the same. He is perhaps the greatest underdog in the history of WWE.
Yet He gives back. He is also a great heel. He put Kofi over. He did not just win and leave. He went back and gave back to other superstars as a really good villain and put other guys in a position to show how talented they are. He is also on the creative team, and he helps his wife on the Bellas tv show; despite being a private person, he showcases his life and promotes the woman's division. Daniel Bryan has shown himself to be one of the best to step between the ropes and one of the best guys outside of them. He does not just promote other talents. He still a great underdog in the present day recently, he turned the switch, and now he is in a mania feud with Roman and Edge for the universal title. He is what you would hope to be in the wrestling industry.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. John Cena already smashed all projections the company had for him last decade, but in the 2010's he smashed the projections of even the fans. Carrying WWE on his back leading into the decade, you cannot tell the story of WWE without John Cena. He is one of the best promo guys there is. He became one of the best in-ring performers over the decade, adding more to his in-ring skills.
He has put over so many people. For example, I can go down the list and tell you how he impacted careers he put over the Shield. He was one of the top stars they took out in WWE, making them feel like a big deal. John Cena was Bray Wyatt's first big feud, and just last mania, he put Bray over in the firefly funhouse. Cena was the villain of Cm punk's story that launched Cm punk to superstardom. John Cena lost the title to Daniel Bryan before he launched into his great feud. When Aj got here, his first feud was Cena, same for Owen's. Seth Rollins defeated John to become a star. The list goes on.
Not to mention John Cena taking a backseat and going to the midcard and having the greatest united states championship run ever, showcasing the entire roster plus NXT and making raw cannot miss. He also promoted the woman on Total Divas and Total Bellas for free he never even asked to be paid to be on the show. Also, he is a 16-time champion, one the biggest stars ever in WWE, and he keeps getting bigger as he branches out to Hollywood, and he still comes back and promotes the youth. John Cena is the biggest act of the 2010s.
Rob's Top Ten Acts of The Decade
Narrowing down this list was one of the most challenging writing projects I’ve ever done. I could not decide what I wanted to value more: consistency over the decade or wrestlers with the highest peaks/monumental moments. I finally settled on trying to find a subjective balance between the two. I feel obligated to mention some wrestlers that narrowly missed the cut for this reason: Sasha Banks, The Bella Twins, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, and Dean Ambrose were all people that had spots on this list at various points but ended up getting pushed down or swapped out for reasons I will explain below.
10. Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is someone who meets both criteria for longevity and memorable peaks in his career. There were points in this list where I ranked him higher, but he settled here because he has also had a lot of periods of his career where he was aimless, underutilized, or played a part in feuds that missed the mark. Starting in 2010 as the army tank with the Ferrari engine, then-Husky Harris was an underrated part of the Nexus. He had genuine moments in the Nexus that showed he could be a diamond in the rough, but reinventing himself as a bayou cult leader, Wyatt exceeded even those expectations. The Wyatt Family was a uniquely intriguing and haunting gimmick with some of the best vignettes of all time. I found myself showing the Wyatt Family to even non-wrestling fan friends. The Wyatt family had amazing matches with the Shield, the Usos, the New Day, and more. Wyatt has since shown a flair for evolving his gimmick to his current Firefly Funhouse gimmick that combines Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with Nightmare on Elm Street. Who could have imagined such a unique gimmick? Again, I found myself sharing the Firefly Funhouse segment on YouTube with everyone. His debut as the Fiend is one of the most iconic moments of the decade. He has also had memorable moments throughout his career, like winning the WWE Championship in the Elimination Chamber and his feud with Daniel Bryan. His match with Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble 2014 is one of the best matches of the decade too. Overall, it was impossible to keep Wyatt off of this list, as he has racked up too many accolades and memorable moments over a relatively long period of time.
9. The Miz
The Miz is another person who meets both criteria on this list. Starting in 2010, he won the Money in the Bank briefcase, had a memorable mid-card feud with Daniel Bryan after being his coach on the original NXT, and became WWE Champion. When he cashed in Money in the Bank, he elicited one of the most iconic fan reactions of all time. He prematurely main evented WrestleMania against John Cena for the WWE Championship, and he spent the rest of the decade proving he deserved that spot. He solidly held down the mid-card for the better part of the decade, inventing creative feuds and delivering fiery chip-on-his-shoulder promos. He had one of the most over tag teams, partnering with Damien Sandow. Many forget that he was doing the bulk of the in-ring work. While Sandow’s gimmick stole the show, Miz had routine 4-star handicap matches. He had another fun partnership when his real-life wife Maryse returned, developing his reputation as perhaps the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. Who could ever forget the skits Miz and Maryse did to promote their match with John Cena and Nikki Bella? The Miz also delivered the second-best promo of the decade on the original Talking Smack, which paid off long-term in a feud with Daniel Bryan. The Miz has done everything in and out of the ring to earn a spot on this list, even becoming a WWE poster child for doing projects and hosting gigs outside of the WWE. The only thing he is missing now is an opportunity for redemption from his original WWE championship run.
8. AJ Styles
In my first iteration of this list, AJ Styles did not make it. How could he? We were focusing on WWE accomplishments, and he didn’t even show up until the 2016 Royal Rumble. Then, I started documenting the decade, and he kept showing up again and again and again. From 2016-2018, there is a strong case to be made that he was the best pure wrestler for every single one of those years. What he lacked in character work, he made up for with his reputation, the way he carried himself, and the ringwork that makes you believe in wrestling as an art form. Starting at his debut, I can only compare it to Sting coming to WWE. For fans in the 2000s, there will never be another moment like it. Styles was the perennial indies guy. He carried TNA and the X division when they were competitive with WWE. He went on to have 5-star matches in New Japan with those names that make pro wrestling purists salivate. I remember watching YouTube videos in 2008 about Styles, his best moments, and people booking dream matches for him if he ever went to WWE. I could never imagine in 2016 that he would finally arrive. I just couldn’t believe we were seeing Styles in a WWE ring. Coming in at number three was a perfect surprise; his first showdown with Reigns was a nod to him shaking the system. Reigns was WWE’s guy, and Styles was competing. He had a good feud with Chris Jericho, a great series of matches with Reigns over the WWE Championship, and an amazing run as champion when he moved over to SmackDown. I would argue that SmackDown from 2016-2018 was the strongest weekly show of the decade, and Styles was the champ that ran the camp. He had amazing matches with Dean Ambrose. His trio of matches with John Cena was some of the best of the decade. After that, he used his new influence as champion to build old rivals like Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura. He was champion for nearly a year, longer than anyone could imagine for Styles under the WWE banner, and he proved himself as a guy Vince McMahon could trust through and through. The end of the decade was rougher for Styles. His stuff with The Club and newer feuds feel more directionless, but he is still one of the best wrestlers on WWE’s roster given any time and the chance to just go.
7. Roman Reigns
Regardless of how you feel about WWE’s undisputed poster child, he was an important part of the decade. Starting in the Shield, Roman Reigns worked with two of the best wrestlers of the decade to put on routine 5-star matches. Almost every match the Shield had was a must-watch, and they handled high-caliber teams routinely. Reigns played his silent badass role to perfection, developing his in-ring work with the safety net the Shield provided him. He went on to set a record for eliminations in the 2014 Royal Rumble. If only WWE would have pulled the trigger on Reigns then. Instead, they made it so clear they were building him as the next guy that the crowd turned on him by the time he won the 2015 Royal Rumble. He went on to main event the next three WrestleManias: 31 against Brock Lesnar, 32 against Triple H, and 33 against the Undertaker. He’s had good or great matches with almost every other guy on this list. The only thing keeping him this low is that he was pushed too hard without enough character development. He is a great superstar with good ring work, but the mixed reviews on the heavy involvement of Reigns over the last decade keep him here. We could see him higher if he sticks around for the duration of the 2020s with his heel Tribal Chief gimmick. I’m still waiting on the one match and feud that defines Reigns. For now, we’re stuck putting him here for the overall body of work and for being the hero to dethrone part-time Lesnar when it felt like a reign of doom.
6. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins debuted in 2012 as the Architect of the Shield, and his stock only went up for there. The Shield was the perfect faction: the silent badass in Roman Reigns, the frenetic energy of Dean Ambrose, and the combination of cerebral personality and pure in-ring talent displayed by Rollins. In my opinion, Rollins was the strongest in-ring member of the Shield and the absolute glue of the group. WWE doubled down on that when he was the instigator of their implosion, turning on his brothers in the Shield to launch a solo career. He won Money in the Bank, had a notable feud with Ambrose, and became the first-ever person to cash in at WrestleMania, saving a so-so main event from ruining the biggest show of the year. In my opinion, Rollin's cash-in is one of the best WrestleMania moments ever and one of the most significant moments of the decade. He had a match of the decade contender with Brock Lesnar and John Cena at that year's Royal Rumble too. Rollins's ring work elevates everyone he works with. In the middle of the decade, his character on Raw made the shows that were otherwise hard to watch. He had an incredible series of matches with John Cena, but his title reign ended abruptly when he sustained a challenging injury. Instead of giving up, Rollins spent a year redesigning, rebuilding, reclaiming, and coming back stronger. He had a muddy era character-wise with great in-ring work with Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, and more. He spent the last part of the decade proving he deserved to return to champion status, feuding with the fans over his ill-received babyface character. But when Rollins was given the time in-ring, he won us back over, leading to his Rumble win and win over Lesnar at WrestleMania 35. His new heel character is more promising, but only time will tell if Rollins will get back to the heights he reached in 2015.
5. Charlotte Flair
Starting in NXT, it was clear that Women’s wrestling was becoming competitive with Men’s. Leading the charge of that was a woman with a familiar last name, but I think any claim that she rode her father’s coattails are ill-founded. In my opinion, Charlotte is still the strongest all-around female wrestler that WWE has maybe ever seen. She has the look, the promo, and the in-ring work. She understands wrestling. She had amazing matches on NXT, debuted with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch to start the Women’s Revolution, and joined a team with Lynch and Paige. As part of the Women’s Revolution, Charlotte and company delivered entertaining matches on weekly TV as the women were finally given time in-ring. Charlotte developed an exciting feud with Nikki Bella and won the Diva’s Championship that turned into the Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 32. In my opinion, her match at WrestleMania 32 with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch was the best match at that year’s WrestleMania. It had the build, the presentation, the entrances, and the in-ring work. For the first time ever, it felt like Women’s wrestling was on the level of Men’s wrestling in WWE, and Charlotte was at the center of it. She went on to have so many of the firsts for women in WWE: first stipulation matches, first main events, and the first time they were on that level. There were so many important figures surrounding this success: the Bella Twins, AJ Lee, Paige, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, and more, but Charlotte was the constant in all of this. She went on to be in the first women’s main event at WrestleMania 35 with Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch. Even though she was added on in that feud, she absolutely deserved that spot, and she used her draw to put over Becky Lynch in the end. Now, we are at a challenging part of Charlotte’s career. Even as a fan of hers, I admit Charlotte is overexposed and over-pushed in WWE, but she is still absolutely every bit as good as she ever has been.
4. The New Day
Don’t you dare be sour. The New Day is inseparable as an act on this list, but I think each of them has a strong case. Xavier Woods started with WWE in 2013, and he had clear potential and charisma. It feels like The New Day was largely his brainchild, teaming up with Big E and Kofi Kingston and overcoming a start as an ill-fated preacher gimmick. They had undeniable chemistry, and he brought the most to the group from a character perspective, delivering promos, developing catchphrases, and being an unignorable presence as a manager outside the ring with aid from his trombone. Outside the ring, Xavier Woods has done as much as anyone to bring outside fans to WWE, using social media presence, influencing nerdy culture like ComicCons, and developing the UpUpDownDown YouTube channel to show a more relatable side to every WWE superstar who has appeared on the channel. Big E came from NXT, debuted in 2012 as a heater for Dolph Ziggler, had a brief stint as Intercontinental Champion, and skyrocketed when he joined the New Day in 2014. His goofy personality absolutely shined in the group and still allowed him to be a force in the ring as a perfect pairing with the agility of Woods and Kingston.
Kofi Kingston is the most interesting member of all. He is the only member of the group to wrestle in WWE the whole decade, starting the decade with entertaining mid-card feuds and stop-and-start pushes at the WWE Championship picture. His absolute dedication to WWE, willingness to give his all each night and pure determination led to the rise of KofiMania in 2019, the perfect culmination of Kingston’s efforts over the decade. Kingston earned a spot as a last-second addition in the 2019 Elimination Chamber match after being replaced in that exact match by Edge a decade ago. He finally won the fans over with passionate performances, stellar in-ring work in gauntlet matches and the Elimination Chamber, and promos that tied together with his entire body of work over the decade. The storyline had the perfect conclusion with the excellent match against Daniel Bryan. I sobbed when Kingston won the title and celebrated with his brothers in The New Day. It was the perfect symbol to show their efforts as a team led to the highest level of success for its longest-tenured member. For the New Day, success for one is success for all. And as a unit, the New Day is synonymous with the tag division in the 2010s. WWE gives notoriously low effort to their tag division, but the New Day made it the main attraction on every show, delivering must-see promo segments, creative sketches, and excellent matches at every PPV, most notably in their feud and matches with the Usos on SmackDown. For my money, the New Day is the greatest team of our generation, maybe the greatest team ever. In an era largely defined by bad feuds and mediocre wrestling, the New Day always delivered.
3. CM Punk
Here he is, everyone, the most controversial entry on this or any list. I absolutely love CM Punk. I don’t know where else you put him on this list. He delivered the best promo and best Raw moment of the decade with the Pipe Bomb. I still listen to this promo for fun. The way he delivers the lines is masterful, and anyone who has ever felt overlooked in an organization knows exactly how Punk felt in that moment. He was a part of maybe the best match of the decade at Money in the Bank against John Cena, the culmination of the perfect feud, high stakes/drama, and two great workers. The summer of Punk single-handedly kept me into wrestling in high school when I would have otherwise given up on it.
I have heard similar stories from people who got back into wrestling because of Punk. There were two years there where he pretty much single-handedly made WWE. He held the WWE championship for over a year, which is a modern marvel against fast-paced booking and short attention spans in the new millennium. He had great matches with Cena, Bryan and maybe the last great match Undertaker ever had. He had must-watch promos every time he had the microphone. He had everything, but WWE creative made him burn out when he was on fire. As a result, Punk went home and never returned. It’s still one of the most disappointing endings to any story, but it’s completely understandable when you hear Punk’s side and remember how over he was that year. Punk still entertained for the next couple of years, telling his story on podcasts and teasing returns, but he never came back. I can finally say this many years later that I’ve come to terms with the fact that he’s probably never coming back. He was the second most over performer of this decade. So what’s keeping him from number two? He left at Royal Rumble 2014, so he wasn’t here for the bulk of the decade. So, what’s keeping him this high? The memories, the moments, and the way he made you feel. He made me believe I could still love wrestling when I was skeptical of everything in life. Most importantly for this list, he started a trend of independent wrestlers that got over in WWE. There’s a chance that without CM Punk, there is no Seth Rollins or AJ Styles. His departure led to the biggest storyline for number one on this list. He proved to Vince McMahon that you could translate indie experience, a love for wrestling, and great in-ring work to the land of giants. CM Punk did that.
2. John Cena
I know I said Roman Reigns was the undisputed poster child for WWE now, but for most of 2010, the Champ is here. Like the Miz earlier, John Cena has done everything he can to promote WWE outside of the ring: blockbuster acting roles, red carpet appearances, philanthropic efforts, hosting awards shows, and tonight show appearances- maybe more than any WWE superstar ever. Initially, I had him in the honorable mentions because Cena largely has not been involved in WWE since his great SmackDown run in 2016-2017, but going over his involvement over the decade, he made his way up to number two. At the beginning of the decade, Cena started putting over other talents, starting with the Miz at WrestleMania 27. He went on to develop a blockbuster feud with the Rock and have two “once in a lifetime” matches. Regardless of how you feel about the matches, these are still the highest drawing matches of all time, and it’s a unique testament to both performers that they made the intergenerational dream match happen. For the rest of the decade, Cena went out exactly how you should. He was still largely involved in the championship picture, but he had great matches and put over hot new stars. He was still a draw, and he was still credible, so every time he lost it meant something. In the first half of the decade, he had the feud of the decade with CM Punk. Their match at Money in the Bank was a lot of people’s match of the decade. He had WrestleMania matches with Bray Wyatt and Rusev to build their credibility. Later, he had maybe the most entertaining mid-card run of all time when he had his US Open challenge, composing amazing matches on weekly TV, showcasing underutilized superstars, and debuting some of our favorite NXT superstars at the time. He had an unforgettable trio of matches with Kevin Owens in the summer, where Owens held the NXT Championship. His feud with Seth Rollins established Rollins as the guy during his championship run. He had an even more unforgettable trio of dream matches with AJ Styles, the TNA poster boy at the time Super Cena was rampant in WWE. His last match with Styles at the Royal Rumble for the WWE title was one of the best matches of the decade. His last run on SmackDown was amazing, mixing it up with all of the best wrestlers of the decade, but Cena added the veteran credibility to that show. Every time he delivered a promo, you had to pay attention. Every time he had a match, it still mattered, all these years later. The only thing keeping him from the top of this list is that he was over-pushed at the beginning of the decade and largely absent the last few years. I don’t think it’s too early to say that the WWE Universe misses him more than we could have ever imagined. Any time Cena comes back, he is welcome because he put in the work.
1. Daniel Bryan
I cannot think of another person that embodies pro wrestling better than Daniel Bryan. His work over the decade proves it. He started as a scrappy indie wrestler, debuting in the original NXT, doing a little work in the Nexus before getting fired over a controversial choking spot. When he returned, it was huge. Now, we knew Daniel Bryan, and we knew how good he was. He spent the first part of the decade winning us over with his in-ring work in matches against The Miz, CM Punk, and more, but he also shined when he had the opportunity to deliver promos and come up with unique catchphrases from Tap or Snap to the now-iconic Yes chant. He had a fun tag team with Kane, proving he can make any idea entertaining. He went through turmoil as a once-in-a-lifetime underdog babyface in feuds with CM Punk, John Cena, Randy Orton, and Bray Wyatt, culminating in his run to the main event in WrestleMania 30. It’s important to remember that Bryan was never planned to be in that spot; he earned it, riding the enthusiasm of his fans, demanding he gets an opportunity at the title. He had two of the best matches of the night, beating Triple H to earn his way in the triple threat match against Randy Orton and Batista, three superstars that WWE had positioned as the pinnacle of the decade prior. There were so many iconic moments in his feud with the authority: the moment against Wyatt on top of the cage, the yes movement segment where fans overtook the WWE ring, and finally winning it all to close WrestleMania in the most significant moment of the decade. Everything about Bryan’s career led to that moment. It’s a shame that it didn’t lead to a more significant title run. Bryan was hurt for the next year. A short return delivered another fun moment, winning the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31 before he disappeared again. In the most emotional moment of the decade, Bryan delivered a retirement speech about how much he loved pro wrestling. In his time away from wrestling, Bryan delivered more as a character than a lot of active wrestlers. As General Manager during the golden era of SmackDown, Bryan doubled as a host on Talking Smack with Renee Young that was absolutely must watch. He used his role to deliver funny moments, build talent, and make everyone around him better. All of that may have been enough to keep him at the number one spot, but Bryan took it a step further, fighting and rehabbing enough to return to the ring. His return promo was almost as emotional as his initial retirement. He went on to have dream matches that we would have never imagined, like the one with AJ Styles. He has spent the end of the decade putting other talents over. He was the perfect foil to a similar underdog story to his own when Kofi Kingston became KofiMania. In that role, Bryan became the heel champion in the second-best moment of the decade, proving he can truly do it all. His book is an absolute must-read for wrestling fans, a love letter to pro wrestling. When nobody else can, Bryan makes you believe you are a kid again, watching wrestling for the first time and falling in love with it all over again. I couldn’t imagine anybody else being number one on this list. Bryan’s story over the decade is a cautionary tale that the dangers in pro wrestling mean any match can be your last. Crucially, Bryan’s story also reminds you that the beautiful moments in pro wrestling live in that reality: the fragility of a career in sports entertainment, the drama of the behind the scenes, and the moments of gratitude when you realize you are watching artistic genius in the form of pro wrestling.
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